The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 16th February 2007




Pensions Bill - lobby your MP

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Lead 

CHILD POVERTY BRITAIN

by Daphne Liddle

THE UNITED
Nations children’s organisation Unicef last Tuesday put Britain at the bottom of a list of 21 economically advanced western countries rated on the welfare and happiness of children.

The report followed a lengthy survey which looked at different aspects of children’s wellbeing, including happiness, family and friendship, education, health and safety, poverty and inequality and sex, drink and drugs. It used 40 separate indicators of child well-being to gauge the lives of children.

 It found that children in Britain are the most unhappy, the most neglected and the most likely to indulge in risky behaviour like drinking and under age sex than any of the other countries. The mental and physical health of children in Britain was poor and has the most children living in poverty, even though Britain has the fifth largest economy in the world.

 Britain did not come lowest in all categories – we perform well in preventing accidents but Britain has a relatively high level of infant mortality and low birth weight.

 Also in education, the reading, maths and science skills of our 15-year-olds are ranked ninth among the 21 countries surveyed – but that ranking falls when the number of young people staying on for higher education is included in the statistics.

 The United States came second to last by a whisker, indicating that those countries with a strong neo-liberal capital culture, where “greed is good” and making money is everything are the places where least time and attention is given to the welfare of children.

 The report’s author, John Bradshaw of York University, expressed surprise at its findings. “This is the result of previous decades of neglect,” he said, “and shows how far we have to catch up. We knew the UK was high in child poverty and in the number of children living in workless households but we were surprised that it came consistently low across so many categories.”

 Children’s Society chief executive Bob Reitemeier said: “Unicef’s report is a wake-up call to the fact that, despite being a rich country, the UK is failing children and young people in a number of crucial ways.”

 The Children’s Commissioner for England, Al Aynsley Green, says that the Unicef report has accurately highlighted the troubled lives of children in Britain. “There is a crisis at the heart of our society,” he said, “and we must not continue to ignore the impact of our attitudes towards children and young people and the effect this has on their wellbeing.

 “I hope this report will prompt us all to look beyond the statistics and to the underlying causes of our failure to nurture happy and healthy children in the UK.

 “These children represent the future of our country and from the findings of this report they are in poor health, unable to maintain loving and successful relationships, feel unsafe and insecure, have low aspirations and put themselves at risk.

 “It is time to stop demonising children and young people for what goes wrong and start supporting them to make positive choices. To bring an end to the confusing messages we give to young people about their role, responsibility and position in society and ensure that every child feels valued and has their rights respected.”

 The Netherlands came top of the league, followed by Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Spain. At the bottom were Portugal, Austria, Hungary, the US and Britain.

 The Government has responded to the report by claiming that many of its findings are out of date and do not reflect recent improvements.

 Colette Marshall, director of Save the Children in Britain, said: “It is shameful to see the UK languishing at the bottom of this table. “This report shows clearly that despite the UK’s wealth, we are failing to give children the best possible start in life.”

 There cannot be a clearer signal that the most extreme form of capitalism is bad for the young and vulnerable. And the contrast when visiting socialist countries like Democratic Korea could not be greater. There the people are proud of their children; they are nurtured, encouraged and involved; they are confident, articulate and become high achievers.

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Editorial

Congestion charging and web-lobbying

MORE THAN one million people have signed an on-line petition against the proposed introduction of road pricing and that figure is expected to rise. Very heavy pressure is being brought to bear on the Government to back down on this issue. Certain right-wing newspapers like the Telegraph are backing this campaign and no doubt the powerful motor manufacturing and oil companies have strong vested interests in persuading the Government to change its mind.

 On the other hand the trendy, environmentalist lobby, backed by papers like the Independent are calling for the Government to stand firm. They point out the damage already inflicted on the planet by carbon dioxide and other emissions, leading to global warming, climate change and the growing incidence of unnatural disasters like the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

 They also point out the more immediate damage done by the more toxic components of exhaust fumes to the lungs of people who live in congested areas, especially to children.

 They are quite right that something must be done to reduce congestion and reduce the volume of traffic – and that includes the use of private cars.

 But congestion charging is a blunt weapon in this war that strikes the less well off – workers on low wages – while leaving the rich free to swan around as they always have. It promises to restore the ruling classes to the heady days of the 1930s – seen through the rosy mists of time and Agatha Christie films – when owning a car or travelling abroad were only for the wealthy few; when roads were nearly empty and there was always plenty of room in the casinos and on the sun loungers at Biarritz and Monte Carlo – and the working classes were simple colourful cockney characters who knew their places. And that place was definitely not in the sun enjoying themselves or driving about causing traffic jams.

 The problem is that now the great western capitalist powers are at last waking up to the threat of global warming, their first instinct is to start calculating how they can make money out of it. We already have the obscenity of “carbon trading” where rich countries pay money to puppet governments in the Third World to keep their countries undeveloped so the rich countries can continue polluting as they please. It has been compared to the mediaeval practice of trading in pardons, where the rich with a guilty conscience can buy the forgiveness of their God.

 Traffic must be reduced but the reduction must involve everyone regardless of wealth or privilege. The best way to persuade people to leave their cars at home is a dramatic improvement in public transport. This has been talked about many times; plans have been put forward and then scrapped. In the meantime the privatised rail and bus companies have raised fares while service standards have plummeted. We even have rail companies raising fares deliberately to discourage passengers because of overcrowding, when they should be providing more trains with more coaches.

 Only in London has the bus service seen a significant improvement but that is now threatened by steep fare rises as the capital plans to host the 2012 Olympics.

 Improving public transport has been shown to reduce private car use but has never been properly implemented across the country. The barriers to this remain the private ownership of bus and train companies and a need for massive public investment in the public transport infrastructure so that it meets the needs of people of all incomes, wherever they live. If the Government were serious about stopping global warming it would act to improve public transport.

 Buses and trains must be brought back into public ownership and the funds must be raised by taxing the rich. The rich must stop dreaming of the Orient Express and start funding the Clapham omnibus.

 There is also good cause to be alarmed about any new measure that requires all vehicles to be fitted with a black box that will enable the Government to track exactly where it is at any time.

 Oh, and on the subject of lobbying the Government via their website, they say they will accept any petitions that “are not political” or “organised”. Asking the Government to do anything is inevitably a political act, and asking other people to support your cause amounts to organising. The Government has automatically disqualified any petition it doesn’t want to recognise, while claiming to be open and democratic. So what’s new! But inadvertently they are telling us that that it is the organised working class that they fear and refuse to deal with. If we really want to change things the buzzword is, as ever, Organise! Organise! Organise!

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